Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Unbelievable but True: The World Class Personal Collection of Peter Via

This post is about a world class mineral collection and its collector, Peter Via, of Roanoke, Virginia.. While passing through this increasingly vital city three years ago, I visited Mr. Via and viewed his assemblage of minerals, It was overwhelming to the point that the amount of time we had scheduled for me to view it was far from sufficient.

Three years later, the opportunity arose for me to visit again.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, limited time once again became an issue. With several hundred specimens on display, my mission was to photograph as many as possible and also try to learn what I could about Mr. Via's approach to putting together such a collection.

The minerals fill intricately crafted modern wooden cabinets in which custom halogen lighting showcases each one. Magnificent as they were to view, photographing them proved challenging enough  that only about twenty of approximately one hundred hurriedly shot images proved pleasing. Despite the superb lighting, good images of such specimens are best captured by removing each piece individually to a studio setting  in order to avoid reflections from nearby minerals as well as interference from the intersection of well-finished wood and the  thick glass upon which the specimens rest. An alternative technique of maneuvering  the camera within an open cabinet might produce a few more decent images, but could easily lead to the disaster of knocking over and damaging treasures of untold value.

Such risk is why, when asked to loan specimens for display at shows,  Mr. Via's  response  is a "blanket no," All the minerals from his collection that are available for the public to to view are those he has generously gifted to museums, primarily James Madison University Mineral Museum in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Peter Via himself is no more likely to be present at shows than the minerals in his collection. "If I went,"he once told The Robb Report, "I'd come back with my entire net worth in the back of an 18-wheeler"The reality is that when Mr.Via acquires a mineral, the provider of it hand delivers the specimen to his home. He is willing to pay top dollar,  but notes:  "It's like the stock market. You've got to know what you're doing."  Unlike many high-end collectors, however, he does not view the minerals in his collection as investments.

Instead, Mr Via chooses his minerals pursuant to a personal sensibility cultivated by serious collecting over the better part of a century. He is well aware of how prices for the kind of minerals he slowly accumulates have consistently risen over time and believes with a sense of knowing that they will continue to do so.

When viewing these specimens, one is likely to wonder about the possibility that they could be the most desirable of their genre or "best of species" known to exist. When asked about this, he responds: " I can't say I know. No one ever knows what's out there sitting in someones closet."

Like all collectors, Mr. Via will occasionally sell a specimen or two. "Sometimes when they come here to sell me minerals," he explains, "I'll want to get something out for the sake of space. I'm happy to let it go for any reasonable amount I can get, but I'm not about to lose money." He made clear, however, that he has no plans ever to sell his collection.